Photo: Jessie Bennett receiving her nomination papers on Wednesday at the Town Clerk’s office.
It’s the photo all candidates – or potential candidates – should take, when they make the leap and take out nomination papers for local office. On Wednesday morning, Jan. 10, Jessica Bennett got “the shot” as she was handed her papers at the Town Clerk’s office for her run to occupy the seat of retiring selectman Mark Paolillo.
“I’m running for the Board of Selectmen because the work of local government is vital and touches all of our lives every day, regardless of age, race, income, political affiliation, and citizenship status,” said the 11-year resident who lives with her family on Trowbridge Street.
“We all bring the trash to the curb and have to get across town in traffic, and turn on the lights and expect that electricity to be there. I know that none of this happens magically and that the Board of Selectmen is an integral part of that process,” she said in an email interview.
While Bennett is the first out of the gate – less than two days after Paolillo first told the Belmontonian after Monday’s Selectmen’s meeting he would not seek a fourth term – to seek a seat on the important three-member board, she’s is almost certainly not the last to see Town Clerk Ellen Cushman seeking their own nomination sheets and the reason comes down to simple math: do it now or end up in the political equivalent of the Registry of Motor Vehicles waiting room.
The selectman’s race in April will be a contest for an “open” seat, so there is no pesky incumbent with a slew of supporters ready for a re-election campaign. Everything (meaning every vote) is up for grabs without having to craft a message and a campaign around the person who already has the job. Everyone who enters the race this year is starting from square one in this political game of Candy Land.
Even the most casual of town government observers that the current collection of selectmen – made up of Paolillo, Tom Caputo and Chairman Adam Dash – is one of the strongest bodies in terms of policy and process in recent memory. Whether it is the community path, the future of the incinerator site, attempting to militate (or just mitigate) the Gordian knot of local traffic along with the myriad of the important ongoing issues such as budgets and planning for revenue shortfalls, there has been an acknowledgment that its service along with no-longer-new Town Administrator Patrice Garvin has Belmont on the right course.
So, let’s say you’re a person interested in taking the leap and run for selectman. If you decide this is not the “right” time to throw your hat into the ring, look at what faces you. Over the next two years – if the longtime trend of selectmen likely to seek a second term – you will likely first have to challenge Dash (who won his first election with 64 percent of the vote against a well-known conservative) and then Caputo (94 percent against token opposition), both well-liked and well-known to voters, a deadly combination for anyone to attempt to unseat incumbents. And the third year will be the winner of this year’s race. And it could be longer for an open seat to arise again if Dash and Caputo decide to match Paolillo’s nine years of service.
In many ways, if not for a better job out of state, retirement to Florida or burnout that could produce an open seat sooner, it’s now or never for those who envisioned themselves spending alternative Monday nights – and at least one other night talking to residents or being a liaison at the Warrant/Capital Budget/Community Preservation committees – at three hour meetings.
Bennett is an attractive candidate with an inspiring back story – she left college (she would graduate later) to assist her parents financially, working as a teller then rising through the banking ranks before changing fields to high tech before moving to the Boston area when her wife was appointed a professor. If just going by Facebook “likes” and comments, Bennett has her supporters.
(The Belmontonian will conduct detailed interviews with all candidates after nominations close on Feb. 12)
Keen observers of town going-ons will have noticed Bennett’s increasing presence at Town Meeting and involvement with causes such as Yes for Belmont, parent/teacher groups and the Foundation for Belmont Education and at meetings including the Belmont High School Building Committee and the various traffic boards – she lives just a slingshot away from the new 7-12 school building. She was recently appointed to the High School Traffic Working Group. No surprise that she was in attendance at the most recent Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, Jan. 7.
Bennett is at the starting line, now it’s who’ll join her for the race.